Wind, Light, and the Twenty-Year-old Me: The Aftertalk
Last updated: February 10, 2022
We were definitely glad to be finished, I think.
Doc (D) and Reiko (R)
D: So do you want to start? You usually have good things to say in the beginning. Did you enjoy this work?
R: Um… it’s complicated… I enjoyed it of course, but as time went, it started dragging and dragging, and so towards the end, I just wanted it to end.
D: We were definitely glad to be finished, I think. After a while I was so deep into editing, and thinking about it only as a piece of writing that needed to be edited, that I stopped being familiar with the storyline and began confusing all these different elements… especially with the whole rural school thing. So many damn schools to keep track of… he was in a rural school, then he was in Tokyo, but in a rural area, at a different school… and I remember asking… “like, wait, did he teach at the same school?” [laughter] I think I need to be away from it for a month or so, so I can actually enjoy it as a story.
R: It happens a lot for you. Especially this one. It gets confusing even for me too, especially the last paragraph. I remember I had to map out the logic of his thought process, and I had to spend some time with it. In the very beginning I was getting mad at you because you kept forgetting things I thought were essential, and core to his philosophy, like in that section where you were asking me if he’d ever referred to this idea of “right hope,” when we had talked about it so many times.
D: Ah, yeah… that’s me with my editor hat on completely forgetting about what came before the last sentence. There, I’m just focusing on the words and the rhythm for the most part. It’s easy for me to forget, though, and especially when Ango is jumping back and forth with people he’s just introduced me to like Yamada and Ishizu… I’ll ask you, “Is this the fat girl?” Then on top of that, he also uses the same damn word to describe different people… oh my God.
R: Yeah in those parts, you seemed confused. But, yeah, this story is different in a way from other stories we’ve translated. We published the abridged version first, then decided to complete the whole story a year later. What you were saying the other day, which was an interesting point, was that the story made sense in the abridged version but in the unabridged version things were made even more clear after we added what we’d previously taken out.
D: Right. So I like this story even in its abridged form because I like that it’s philosophical. And once we completed the unabridged version, that aspect of the story made even more sense. It was nice to see how Ango thought about things and how he articulated those ideas, especially in those last two pages. Still, even though you had cut things out in the abridged version, I got a lot out of it, and it has remained my favorite story. It made sense. You were able to walk away from that version with the meaning intact. It was such a good job, I think, of selectively cutting things.
R: Thank you.
D: It’s amazing actually how well you’re able to do that. I’m guessing you never did that before, so that was pretty darn cool. But then this time, because we can see the entire story, we gain insight into why it was that he was able to be so philosophical, or rather, how he got away from being just philosophical.
R: What do you mean?
D: In the unabridged version we see now that he actually does come up with an answer to what unhappiness is, right? He’s so comfortable in life in most of the early part of the story and then he meets these girls and he realizes, “Oh, this is what unhappiness is.” I don’t know… it’s still… even just talking about it now… it’s still a complicated idea. I’ve also been thinking lately that it’s not actually a story. I mean, it’s just like he’s telling…
R: Yeah, but this is his style of telling a story. He uses his experience to create a story that helps the reader benefit. I have a collection of similar types of stories—biographical-type novels.
D: Autobiographical, you mean?
R: Yes, autobiographical, although they’re not completely autobiographical. He uses his experience, but still, it’s modified as if it were a novel… I guess as an artist he takes poetic license with things, so the story acts as a piece of literature, highlighting what he sees as important to make the scene more meaningful… just like Dazai (in Wish Fulfilled). It’s just a woman skipping, but he paints it as this beautiful moment that goes beyond that and leaves an impression in the reader’s mind. In the research I did, I found out he mostly used real people in this story… there was that website I was showing you… remember? With the names of his colleagues? And you could see that he had used the real names of those people in the story. You could also see he registered with the school as a teacher using his pen name, Ango; when his real name was Heigo.
R: Yes. He registered his name as Sakaguchi Ango. But the person who was sharing this website couldn’t identify who the beautiful female teacher might have been. I don’t know… Ango might have created that character for the purpose of this story. We also don’t know about those three girls; it’s very likely that he had these three girls as students, but again we don’t know if he created them, or…
D: It could be like a composite of people too; so basically you take characteristics of many people and wrap those traits into one person. So we don’t know who the noble teacher was, or whether she was a real person, but didn’t the people who created this website read interviews with him and stuff so that might have been discovered somehow? Didn’t he ever talk about any of these things, or wasn’t he ever interviewed about these stories?
R: It seems like he did some interviews but not about this story in particular. Probably writers don’t want to talk about their work once it’s done. They want to move on.
Do you remember that horseshit part?
D: Yeah, that’s often true. Is there a certain part of this story that you really enjoyed?
R: For the unabridged version, I especially like the addition of those sections with the female students. We worked very hard, and spent a lot of time on those parts—on those three girls. I’m quite proud of those sections. Like Yamada’s part… my initial translation of one of the words he uses to describe Yamada’s force was “beast-like.” And you convinced me it might not be the best choice, especially because later on we had to draw a comparison between her and the sexy mother. And then with Yamada’s mother, there’s this descriptive adjective that Ango used to describe the mother’s face; that word in Japanese wouldn’t typically be used to describe a face. It would be used to describe a piece of writing… or, a talk, or an idea. But because he used it to describe a person’s face, we had to spend time figuring out how to deliver it in the right way using English.
D: Yeah, there were certainly a number of words and sentences that we really had to wrestle with in this story… more than Nakjima and Dazai for sure.
R: Do you remember that horseshit part? You were so certain the word order of that sentence was off, because you said, “Horsehit don’t gasp for breath.” [laughter]
D: Ah, yes… the original translation we had was something like, “she’d be stepped on in the street and gasping for breath like horseshit.” As if horseshit had the ability to breathe. Which ain’t possible. But, that’s the order of it in the original, right?
R: Yes. No matter how flexible I allow myself to be, that’s almost the only way it can be read.
D: Nuts. So, aside from all this word wackiness, what was the trickiest part overall would you say?
R: Uh, maybe the beginning part…
D: Yeah, that sucked.
R: [laughter] It was interesting how you were struggling with the editing because, looking back, the sentences are very simple, or at least in Japanese are quite straightforward. But you wanted the parts to flow nicely, so we had to break things down, and go back and forth, and play with the sentences in so many different ways. And while the sentences we came up with aren’t so complex, if you look at the history of our revisions you can see how much of a struggle that was.
D: There must be so many versions. Listening to you talk about this just now, I’m reminded that yes; that’s part of the problem with a lot of Japanese, to me at least, and to my ear… and especially him, the way he writes in this kind of staccato style. It’s kind of like the difference between sobameshi and soba. You know sobameshi, right?
R: Sobameshi is… uh, food. [laughter]
D: [laughter] Sobameshi is food, yeah. It’s Kansai creation, or maybe it’s a Shinnagata area kind of a dish? It’s basically soba that’s tossed on a grill, almost like yakisoba, but a little bit different. It’s soba… cooked on a grill… and then chopped up (!) with meat and stuff like that.
R: Ah… ah…
D: So, it’s like chopped spaghetti. It’s chopped soba instead of long flowy soba, right? It’s just like: chak, chak, chak, chak… that’s what these sentences were in the beginning.
R: Ah! So, soba acting as rice; meshi is rice in Japanese.
D: Yeah, so it’s all chopped up. That’s the way it felt. And I remember thinking this has to be better because we can’t lead with these disgusting sentences; then people will never get past page two.
R: Yeah, that was me wanting to create a framework as a vomit draft; I knew those parts weren’t finished and they felt difficult to do on my own… I had many word choices, remember? And I wanted to ask you which words would be best suited for the nuance I felt in Japanese. And, because this time—usually, I translate a handful of sentences, and show you—but this time, I did all the translation on my own at first… writing in a notebook… and then when everything was finished, I showed you.
D: Right, we did do that with the new parts.
R: I thought maybe we could edit together, so I wasn’t particularly paying attention to the sentences; I was going through it quickly. Oh! And I want to talk about the finding of semicolons. They were a savior for us.
D: Yeah, we owe Kafka a royalty check.
R: One thing that was difficult about Ango was that…
flip to part two.